Connect with us

Uncategorized

Robert Downey Jr. is launching a new ‘rolling’ venture fund to back sustainability startups

Published

on

A little less than two years ago, when the actor, producer, and investor Robert Downey Jr. unveiled his new, sustainability focused initiative called the FootPrint Coalition at Amazon’s re:MARS conference it was little more than a static website and a subscription prompt.

Jump cut to today, and the firm now has five portfolio companies, a non-profit initiative, and is launching a rolling venture fund, Footprint Coalition Ventures, at the World Economic Forum’s Digital Davos event.

With the new rolling fund, managed through AngelList, Downey Jr.’s initiative sits the intersection of two of the biggest ideas reshaping the world economy — the democratization of access to capital and investment vehicles and the $10 trillion opportunity to decarbonize global industry.

It’s another arrow in the quiver for an institution that aims to combine storytelling, investing, and non-profit commitments to combat the world’s climate crisis.

Rolling funds and the revolution in finance

There’s a revolution happening in finance right now, whether it’s the rise of the Redittors trying to avenge the malfeasance of short-sellers and big institutional investors that’s happening through investments in stocks like Blockbuster, Nokia, Gamestop and AMC, or the new crowdfunding sources and rolling funds that are allowing regular investors to finance early stage companies, things on Wall Street are definitely changing.

And while the public market gambles are undoubtably minting some new millionaires, opening up access to interesting startup investments is a thesis that’s a stark contrast to the cynicism of day-trading gambles.

Both could leave investors with less than zero in some cases, but with rolling funds or crowdfunding, there’s a real opportunity to build something rather than just sticking it to the man.

Unlike traditional venture funds, rolling funds raise new capital commitments on a quarterly basis and invest as they go, hence the “rolling”. Investors come on for a minimum one-year commitment, and invest at a quarterly cadence. In Downey Jr.’s fund that commitment amounts to $5,000 per quarter for up to 2,000 qualified investors (and a smaller number of accredited ones), according to a person with knowledge of the firm’s plans.

“The idea of opening [the fund] to real people, rather than the ivory tower of the institutional bigwigs… It’s a little bit more slamdance than Sundance [and] I kind of dig it,” said Downey Jr.

A guide to recognizing FootPrint Coalition Ventures

FootPrint Coalition Ventures will be split between early and late stage investment funds and will be looking to make six investments per year in early stage companies and four later stage deals.

Helping Downey Jr. manage the operations are investors like Jonathan Schulthof, who previously founded LOOM Media, which leverages smart urban infrastructure for advertising, founded Motivate International, which manages bike sharing services in cities across the U.S., and served as a managing partner for Global Technology Investments. Schulthof is joined by Steve Levin, who co-founded Team Downey, Downey Jr.’s media production company and Downey Ventures, which invests in media and technology companies. 

The firm already has four companies in its portfolio through investments it made using the founders’ own capital. And while those investments were all under $1 million, the firm expects that the size of its commitments will grow as it raises additional cash. Footprint Coalition has also maintained pro-rata investment rights so that it can increase the size of its stake in businesses over time. And the investments it made to date were sized in anticipation of potential for follow-ons at much higher valuations.

A venture fund inside of a coalition

The initiative that Downey Jr. hopes to build is more than just an investment arm. Both he and his co-founders see the investment side as a single piece of a broader platform that leverages the massive social following Downey Jr. has created and the storytelling skills he and his team have mastered through decades spent working in the movie business.

That broader team includes Rachel Kropa, the former head of the CAA Foundation, who will lead scientific and philanthropic efforts and serve as the fund’s Impact Advisor and liaison to the scientific and research communities, according to a statement.

Rachel Kropa, former head of the CAA Foundation who joined Footprint Coalition to lead scientific and philanthropic efforts last year, will serve as the fund’s Impact Advisor and liaison to the scientific and research communities.

“The idea that the content that we made can be related back to the individual is very powerful,” said Kropa. “This problem is so intractable and interconnected across the world. It does matter that the fish that you eat are made using a sustainable feed.”

Kropa is referring to a piece that the FootPrint Coalition put out around sustainable aquaculture tied to the group’s recent investment in Ÿnsect, a company that makes protein from crickets for use in animal feed and human food.

“Our content around Cellular Agriculture, exemplifies the type of content we can create in the course of taking a deep dive into a particular industry. Though we have not (yet) invested in the space, we do believe there are interesting stories to tell,” said one person who works with the company.

That media is additive to activate the group’s audience, and is not something that it charges for — or considers part of its investment valuation. “We’ve been creating edited video segments with Robert doing voice over and overlaying animation all of which we’ve been posting to social. We do this for free to the companies, and we don’t charge / strong-arm / cajole for warrants, advisor shares, or the like in return,” the person said.

Weird science and sustainability

While Ÿnsect is one example of a company that the FootPrint Coalition has backed that’s doing something which may be a little outside of the purview of most of Downey Jr.’s following, other businesses like the bamboo toilet paper company, Cloud Paper, and the new investment in the sustainability focused financial services company, Aspiration, have definite direct consumer ties.

That balance is something that Schulthof said the firm was looking for as it pursues not just environmental and sustainability returns, but, more concretely, profit.

“We look at things that are meaningful and impactful [and] I get to be purely capitalist. The question is this a good opportunity is something that has to do with its margins, its scale, its risk profile, the people involved and fundamentally what are the terms… do we think the company will deliver value to investors,” said Schulthof. “We’re looking for returns.”

The opportunity for returns is enormous. As the group noted, the ESG sector – funds that focus on the Environmental, Social and Governance issues – continues to grow rapidly Part of the broader stakeholder capitalism movement, impact investing funds have topped $250 billion, and sustainability assets have doubled in value over the past three years.

“We see two powerful trends working together to support the environment. First, engaging content and media distribution enable us to create a passionate community from Robert’s 100 million followers and to use that audience to access great investments. Second, a turnkey technology platform now enables us to manage a broad set of individual investors,” said Schulthof in a statement. “Venture funds traditionally have high minimums that exclude only the wealthiest individuals, or endowments and foundations. With much lower minimums and shorter investment periods, we can now offer access to these same companies to a much broader group. When these investors further ignite our passionate audience, we hope to set a positive feedback loop in motion with environmental technologies as the ultimate beneficiary.”

 

Lyron Foster is a Hawaii based African American Musician, Author, Actor, Blogger, Filmmaker, Philanthropist and Multinational Serial Tech Entrepreneur.

Continue Reading
Comments

Uncategorized

Freemium isn’t a trend — it’s the future of SaaS

Published

on

As the COVID-19 lockdowns cascaded around the world last spring, companies large and small saw demand slow to a halt seemingly overnight. Enterprises weren’t comfortable making big, long-term commitments when they had no clue what the future would hold.

Innovative SaaS companies responded quickly by making their products available for free or at a steep discount to boost demand.

While Zoom gets all the attention, there were hundreds of free SaaS tools to help folks through the pandemic. Pluralsight ran a #FreeApril campaign, offering free access to its platform for all of April. Cloudflare made its Teams product free from March until September 1, 2020. GitHub went free for teams in April and slashed the price of its paid Team plan.

A selection of new free, free trial and low-priced offerings from leading SaaS companies. Image Credits: Kyle Poyar/OpenView.

The free products were aimed squarely at end users — whether it be a developer, individual marketer, sales rep or someone else at the edge of an organization. These end users were stuck at home during the pandemic, yet they desperately needed software to power their working lives.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them.

End users prefer to do the vast majority of their research online before ever talking to a sales rep, making free products the ideal way to reach them. Many end users want to jump straight into a product, no hassle or credit card or budget approval required.

After they’ve set up an account and customized it for their workflow, end users have essentially already made a purchase decision with their time — all without ever feeling like they were in an active buying cycle.

An end user-focused free offering became an essential SaaS survival strategy in 2020.

But these free offerings didn’t go away as lockdowns loosened up. SaaS companies instead doubled down on freemium because they realized that doing so had a real and positive impact on their business. In doing so, they busted the outdated myths that have held 82% of SaaS companies back from offering their own free plan.

Myth: A free offering will cannibalize paying customers

GoDaddy is a digital behemoth, known for being a ’90s-era pioneer in web domains as well as for their controversial Super Bowl ads. The company has steadily diversified into business software, now generating roughly $700 million in ARR from its business applications segment and reaching millions of paying customers. There are very few businesses that would see greater potential revenue cannibalization from launching a free product than GoDaddy.

But GoDaddy didn’t let fear stop them from testing freemium when lockdowns set in. Freemium started out as a small-scale experiment in spring 2020 for the websites and marketing product. GoDaddy has since increased the experiment to 50% of U.S. website traffic, with plans to scale to 100% of U.S. traffic and open availability to other markets in 2021.

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Metafy adds $5.5M to its seed round as the market for games coaching grows

Published

on

This morning Metafy, a distributed startup building a marketplace to match gamers with instructors, announced that it has closed an additional $5.5 million to its $3.15 million seed round. Call it a seed-2, seed-extension or merely a baby Series A; Forerunner Ventures, DCM and Seven Seven Six led the round as a trio.

Metafy’s model is catching on with its market. According to its CEO Josh Fabian, the company has grown from incorporation to gross merchandise volume (GMV) of $76,000 in around nine months. That’s quick.

The startup is building in public, so we have its raw data to share. Via Fabian, here’s how Metafy has grown since its birth:

From the company. As a small tip, if you want the media to care about your startup’s growth rate, share like this!

When TechCrunch first caught wind of Metafy via prior seed investor M25, we presumed that it was a marketplace that was built to allow esports pros and other highly capable gamers teach esports-hopefuls get better at their chosen title. That’s not the case.

Don’t think of Metafy as a marketplace where you can hire a former professional League of Legends player to help improve your laning-phase AD carry mechanics. Though that might come in time. Today a full 0% of the company’s current GMV comes from esports titles. Instead, the company is pursuing games with strong niche followings, what Fabian described as “vibrant, loyal communities.” Like Super Smash Brothers, its leading game today in terms of GMV generated.

Why pursue those titles instead of the most competitive games? Metafy’s CEO explained that his startup has a particular take on its market — that it focuses on coaches as its core customer, over trainees. This allows the startup to focus on its mission of making coaching a full-time gig, or at least one that pays well enough to matter. By doing so, Metafy has cut its need for marketing spend, because the coaches that it onboards bring their own audience. This is where the company is targeting games with super-dedicated user bases, like Smash. They fit well into its build for coaches, onboard coaches, coaches bring their fans, GMV is generated model.

Metafy has big plans, which brings us back to its recent raise. Fabian told TechCrunch any game with a skill curve could wind up on Metafy. Think chess, poker or other games that can be played digitally. To build toward that future, Metafy decided to take on more capital so that it could grow its team.

So what does its $5.5 million unlock for the startup? Per its CEO, Metafy is currently a team of 18 with a monthly burn rate of around $80,000. He wants it to grow to 30 folks, with nearly all of its new hires going into its product org, broadly.

TechCrunch’s perspective is that gaming is not becoming mainstream, but that it has already done so. Building for the gaming world, then, makes good sense, as tools like Metafy won’t suffer from the same boom/bust cycles that can plague game developers. Especially as the startup becomes more diversified in its title base.

Normally we’d close by noting that we’ll get back in touch with the company in a few quarters to see how it’s getting on in growth terms. But because it’s sharing that data publicly, we’ll simply keep reading. More when we have a few months’ more data to chew on.

Continue Reading

Uncategorized

Snap to launch a new Creator Marketplace this month, initially focused on Lens Creators

Published

on

Snap on Wednesday announced its plan to soon launch a Creator Marketplace, which will make it easier for businesses to find and partner with Snapchat creators, including Lens creators, AR creators and later, prominent Snapchat creators known as Snap Stars. At launch, the marketplace will focus on connecting brands and AR creators for AR ads. It will then expand to support all Snap Creators by 2022.

The company had previously helped connect its creator community with advertisers through its Snapchat Storytellers program, which first launched into pilot testing in 2018 — already a late arrival to the space. However, that program’s focus was similar to Facebook’s Brand Collabs Manager, as it focused on helping businesses find Snap creators who could produce video content.

Snap’s new marketplace, meanwhile, has a broader focus in terms of connecting all sorts of creators with the Snap advertising ecosystem. This includes Lens Creators, Developers and Partners, and then later, Snap’s popular creators with public profiles.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will open to businesses later this month to help them partner with a select group of AR Creators in Snap’s Lens Network. These creators can help businesses build AR experiences without the need for extensive creative resources, which makes access to Snap’s AR ads more accessible to businesses, including smaller businesses without in-house developer talent.

Lens creators have already found opportunity working for businesses that want to grow their Snapchat presence — even allowing some creators to quit their day jobs and just build Lenses for a living. Snap has been further investing in this area of its business, having announced in December a $3.5 million fund directed toward AR Lens creation. The company said at the time there were tens of thousands of Lens creators who had collectively made over 1.5 million Lenses to date.

Using Lenses has grown more popular, too, the company had noted, saying that more than 180 million people interact with a Snapchat Lens every day — up from 70 million daily active users of Lenses when the Lens Explorer section first launched in the app in 2018.

Now, Snap says that over 200 million Snapchat users interact with augmented reality on a daily basis, on average, out of its 280 million daily users. The majority (over 90%) of these users are 13 to 25-year-olds. In total, users are posting over 5 billion Snaps per day.

Snap says the Creator Marketplace will remain focused on connecting businesses with AR Lens Creators throughout 2021.

The following year, it will expand to include the community of professional creators and storytellers who understand the current trends and interests of the Snap user base and can help businesses with their ad campaigns. The company will not take a cut of the deals facilitated through the Marketplace, it says.

This would include the creators making content for Snap’s new TikTok rival, Spotlight, which launched in November 2020. Snap encouraged adoption of the feature by shelling out $1 million per day to creators of top videos. In March 2021, over 125 million Snapchat users watched Spotlight, it says.

Image Credits: Snapchat

Spotlight isn’t the only way Snap is challenging TikTok.

The company also on Wednesday announced it’s snagging two of TikTok’s biggest stars for its upcoming Snap Originals lineup: Charli and Dixie D’Amelio. The siblings, who have gained over 20 million follows on Snapchat this past year, will star in the series “Charli vs. Dixie.” Other new Originals will feature names like artist Megan Thee Stallion, actor Ryan Reynolds, twins and influencers Niki and Gabi DeMartino, and YouTube beauty vlogger Manny Mua, among others.

Snap’s shows were watched by over 400 million people in 2020, including 93% of the Gen Z population in the U.S., it noted.

 

Continue Reading

Trending